Editorial | Shake up or ship out

The only way to save this government might be to split it apart

If there is something worse in politics than not agreeing it is disagreeing. Case in point: the current government. When it came to power in 2011, it was clear that the three parties making up the coalition did not see eye to eye on much beyond their opposition to the previous government. Given that the coalition includes socialists on the one side and centrists who backed some of the previous government’s legislation on the other, anything other than an agreement to disagree on most issues would have been either a lie or a political miracle.

Now, with the Socialdemokraterne-led government hell-bent on forcing through a long list of painful reforms, the divides they had managed to paper over until now threaten to undermine the coalition.

Some have suggested that a cabinet shake-up may be on the way in order to smooth things over again. Such a move would reassign cabinet seats and make sure that Socialistisk Folkeparti ministers could head up ministries that were better suited to their left-wing profile. Currently, two of the party’s six ministers have portfolios related to working in the best interest of the nation’s businesses. That uncomfortable set-up this week became a source of political gossip when the business and growth minister, Annette Vilhelmsen, was conspicuously absent from the presentation of a government plan to stimulate growth by cutting taxes and reducing social services.

Had a reform been carried out three months ago, this move might have allowed members of the Socialistisk Folkeparti to seek shelter in their offices while the government was crafting its current raft of reforms. By this point, however, the damage has been done; SF voters are rebelling and the government is in disarray.

Such a situation need not prove terminal for the government. The bylaws of the Danish parliament permit minority governments, provided they do not have a majority against them. The government already relies on the far-left Enhedslisten to pass most legislation. Often it does so kicking and screaming, but the alternative, it finds, is even less palatable. Such would probably be the case with an SF that decided to detach itself from the government, yet remain loyal to it.

The reward to SF for its move would be to win back many of the voters it lost during its drift toward the centre and, critics argue, away from its socialist roots. The benefit for the government would be less internal divisions and an ally that had the self-confidence to prioritise its convictions over cabinet seats. 

The choice facing the coalition members is amicable divorce or nasty public blow-up. While the dishes have been flying ever since the government was formed, they can no longer continue to sweep the pieces under the carpet.

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